Concept Note: Identifying Common Ground on Criminal Justice for UNGASS 2016

United Nations University, New York, June 2016. 
Summer Walker and James Cockayne

As the UN General Assembly’s Special Session in New York on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS 2016) approaches, there is a need to consider how criminal justice approaches best fit within efforts at creating an integrated and balanced approach for the international drug control regime. Criminal justice and law enforcement-based approaches have been at the centre of global drugs policy for many decades, particularly since the adoption of the 1988 United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, which created the basis for the criminalization of the illicit drug trade. 

However, in the subsequent quarter century, the pursuit of criminal justice-based approaches to implementation of the global drug control regime has led to some unenvisaged outcomes: the criminalization of whole communities, mass incarceration, and militarized responses to fight cultivation and trafficking. Yet criminal justice has stayed at the heart of the world response to the drug problem. The 2009 Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem highlights law enforcement and judicial systems as key elements of the supply reduction pillar, and incorporates an entire pillar focused on criminal justice efforts to counter money-laundering and promote judicial cooperation.